East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Other People Pulps – Not a Country for Pulps


pulp_coverAs I probably mentioned already, I’ve been a roleplayer for the last 25+ years – having started to play seriously with Call of Cthulhu in the mid-80s.
It will come as no surprise that I like very much pulp-themed RPGs – home-brew stuff run on Savage Worlds, mostly, but also games such as Adventure!, or Hollow Earth Expeditions.
I like the genre, and I can slip quite easily into pulp-adventure-mode.
It’s fun.
My players often have a lot less fun.
Fact is – being Italian, they lack the pulp background.
They are pulp-illiterate.
And lacking the pulp culture, they have a hard time coping with the stories I pitch at them – with the characters, the situations, the mood.
The problem is similar to what would happen should I pitch one of my stories to most Italian publishers.
This is not a country for pulps.

The reasons are various.
There is the ingrained lack of respect for imaginative fiction in Italian “high” literature – probably connected with the Catholic background and the realism-obsessed, anti-romantic literary movements prominent in defining our literary culture.

Then, there is the fact that during the heyday of the pulps, Italy was in a regime of autarchy – meaning cultural materials from abroad, especially from English-speaking countries, were an absolute no-no.

Alex-Raymond-Flash-GordonWell, absolute…
We did get comics – Tarzan, Flash Gordon, The Phantom (called L’Uomo Mascherato in Italy), Mandrake.
Fact is, with comics it’s easier – you can keep the graphics and add a new text.
There’s a Mandrake story in which, in the original, the magician discovers a German spy ring in London.
In the Italian version, Mandrake breaks a British spy ring in Berlin.
Nice and smooth.
Or you can start your own apocryphal comic – there’s a few Flash Gordon adventures drawn by Italian artists, and penned by future movie legend Federico Fellini, out there.

Then, the earlier, national equivalent of the pulps – the romanzi d’appendice (appendix novels, published in weekly installments as a supplement to newspapers), tended to be Gothic or sentimental, or historical, replicating Dumas-esque models.

And our own adventure writing was considered – as it is, often, today – kids’ stuff: Emilio Salgari, first and foremost.
Even if it was not written for children, and indeed does show some dark elements and a lot of adult situations.

After the Second World War, we did get new editions of Burroughs.
And we got pulp SF from magazines like Astounding, and sword & sorcery from Unknown, and supernatural horror from Weird Tales, variously reprinted, but with little reference to the culture informing them. It was all marketed as (old) science fiction, fantasy, horror.
And mystery pulp stories from Black Mask and the like – but again, no connection.
Much later, in the 1980s, a publisher translated a few Doc Savage books, but it was too late, and it was a voice calling in the desert – the characters and the situations were considered dated and unrealistic, vaguely ridiculous, pretty camp, and it was a flop.

Basically, the pulp adventure story – be it something about flying aces, the historical romp in the Harold Lamb style, western adventures and the masked avenger stories, never reached the Italian markets.

Movies based on Burroughs (The Land That Time Forgot etc.) became the standard staple of kids matinees first and afternoon TV later, but again, the connection was lost.
Then came Indiana Jones, but it was, again, something missing a context.
It was a great success – but we can’t say the same for the likes of The Rocketeer, or The Shadow.

And anyway, anyone looking for more of the same – more Indiana Jones, more The Shadow – had nothing handy.

The background is missing.
The result is a curiously pulp-illiterate culture, in a world full of pulps.



Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

6 thoughts on “Other People Pulps – Not a Country for Pulps

  1. There was also a brief attempt at publishing a few Avenger stories. I think a total of six made to the Italian market (at least I have six).


  2. This is also due to “political” reasons. After WWII the Italian cultural industry was strongly connected with left-wing parties. Usually Pulps are not “politically correct” and therefore were not accepted by scholars and other cultural figures of the time. Remember the Gramsci’s ban of all forms of adventure stories and pulps? This approach has not changed, and as a result the only genre accepted is now the “noir” since it is considered a “critical” tool of contemporary society.


    • This certainly influences criticism.
      At reader and publisher level, I am not sure this was ever an issue.
      Quite simply, hero pulps in particular were left behind because after the war the Italian publishing market jumped straight to hero comics (the evolution of hero pulps).
      All the rest was simply bundled in larger categories – like science fiction, fantasy etc.


  3. Do you see a connection between giallo and pulp? I would be interested in your take on that Davide.


    • Nice question šŸ™‚
      Giallo as a movie genre does have some elements in common with pulp literature, but it’s more a matter of common influences than a direct connection.
      But it’s an interesting and complex topic – I’ll do a post on the subject, quite happily.


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